AR Rahman and Rajiv Menon – A rewarding partnership

It is my firm conviction that the songs and films we chance upon while growing up — typically between the ages of 10 and 25 — will forever remain special, forever retain the potency to transport us to a time that we can’t help but feel was ‘better’. Minsara Kanavu came during such a time for me, and perhaps because I can’t help but be intoxicated by nostalgia, it’s tempting to call those snapshots from the past, magical. It was 1997 — a time when we were still firm in our conviction that AR Rahman was ‘ours’ (even if he’d done Rangeela a couple of years earlier). It was a time when any girl who wanted to show her mettle as a singer chose to sing ‘Anbendra Mazhayile’. If she sang the ‘Vinmeengal kanpaarka sooriyan thondrumo’ line without too much strain, you knew you were in the presence of some serious competence. You’d try, of course, to sing that line secretly, and have your voice shatter like flung glass. You’d take refuge in ‘Poo pookum osai’, for that’s a seemingly easier song, but it’s deceptive, of course, and you would realise it to your horror when you got to ‘Sa ri ga me pa da ni sa reeee’. I will also remember that song for Kajol’s competent lip-syncing, and mind you, the lyrics are a mouthful even for a native speaker: “Kanthoongum neraththil, mounathin jaamathil, gadigaarachchaththam sangeedham…”

It was a time when actors, it seems, still tried, but then again, my memory is likely coloured by the deceptive lure of nostalgia. It was a time when neighbourhood audio stores had just begun making customised playlists. You’d walk in with about 20 bucks with a written note of the tracks you wanted in your cassette. You’d have written a couple from Mr. Romeo and Avvai Shanmughi which had released a few weeks earlier, but when it came to Minsara Kanavu, you asked for the whole lot.

You weren’t going to miss SPB bellowing ‘Nerukkame kaadhal baashai!”. You were’t going to miss being astonished by how unusual Strawberry Kanne was during the time it came out, how it seamlessly fused lyrics and dialogues. You most definitely weren’t going to miss the festive spirit of Ooh la la la that took weight off sadness, that added pounds to happiness. I’ll remember it for being a song in which Chithra’s voice is a free-spirited dance, and Prabhudheva’s dance, a beautiful tune. The song that’s truly lingered though, of course, is one whose two words have resulted in a Gautham Menon hit film. The sheer familiarity of Vennilave Vennilave means that I don’t have to write any reminders of Hariharan effortlessly hitting the high notes, or Saadhana Sargam’s awkward Tamil being a charm unto itself. And mind you, I’m not even the sort to find Udit Narayan’s pronunciation endearing. About Vennilave, I’ll just leave it by drawing attention to the exquisite choreography in the moonlit, derelict space strewn with leaves. The dancing in the song is less two characters simply reproducing the choreographer’s moves, and more a bewitching mating ritual between two reluctant partners.

And then, just when it seemed like another such album was going to take a while coming, Rajiv Menon and AR Rahman returned with Kandukondain Kandukondain. The love for high notes continued in Enna Solla Pogiraai, a curse for your bathroom singer, a boon for the professional. Unsurprisingly, it fetched Shankar Mahadevan a National Award. I also share much fondness for Kannamoochi (especially the version involving Yesudas) and Kandukondain Kandukondain from the album. I remember the latter also for the visual narrative about the princess in the castle and the knight with the sword who comes from afar to rescue her. Remember that this isn’t just a fanciful video where the crew went abroad because they could. The narrative here is well in keeping with the nature of Aishwarya Rai’s character in the film, who seems cursed with incurable restlessness and a youthful thirst for adventure. The events of the song are how she would have preferred her love life to unfold.

The surprise in this album — call it this film’s Strawberry Kanne if you will — is Suttum Vizhi, which got me spending several nights immersed in Bharathiyaar’s work. Hariharan sings the song with all the lilting poetry of nature, and perhaps that’s why the only background music you hear in the track is of rain and thunder.

And now, almost two decades later, Rajiv Menon and AR Rahman are back again. In a recent interview, Rajiv Menon spoke about how this film is about the pervasive ability of music, how it can be found everywhere if only you cared to look. The title, Sarvam Thaala Mayam, is evidently drawn from this idea. I couldn’t but instantly get reminded of lyrics from a song in his first film, that indicates that this idea about the omnipresence of music has been with the director for a while now: “Bhoomi oru veenai, adhai kaatrin kaigal meetudhae.” Pay attention to the lyrics of Poo Pookkum Osai, and you’ll see that the whole song runs home this same point.

So, what I’m trying to say is, Rajiv and Rahman, it’s good to have you guys back again.

This column was written for Cinema Express, the cinema division of The New Indian Express. All copyrights belong to the organisation. Do link to its page if you’d like to share it.

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